Despite loud protests this week, many students in the 23-system Cal State University system will pay 6% more for tuition starting in fall 2024.
The Cal State University Board of Trustees passed the increase Wednesday in an effort to bridge a $1.5 billion funding gap, promising to provide more financial aid as part of the rise in the cost of education.
The 6% five-year increase in tuition, the first since the 2011-12 academic year amounts to $342 per full-time resident undergraduate student, taking the annual tuition price from $5,742 per student to $6,084.
Similar rate increases will affect nonresident undergraduates, as well as graduate, doctoral and teacher credential programs.
Tuition will go up by 6% every year until the 2028-2029 academic year, when the price of resident undergraduate tuition will reach $7,682. In July 2027, 18 months before the new academic year, tuition rates will be reassessed to give the board “sufficient time to consider whether any additional tuition rate changes would be implemented for the 2029-30 year,” according to the CSU.
After five years, tuition rates will remain at the 2028-2029 level unless the board decides to take another action.
The vote was 15-5-0, with opposition by Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, board member Lateefah Simon and student trustees Diana Aguilar-Cruz and Jonathan Molina Mancio.
Students and faculty have been vocal in their opposition to the tuition hikes since the CSU released its initial proposal in July.
At the CSU Chancellor’s Office in Downtown Long Beach Tuesday, students spent two hours sharing personal testimonies with the board during public comment about how the tuition hike would affect them. At a rally outside, hundreds vehemently opposed the proposal and shared widespread concerns that the tuition increase will fall on the backs of students who already struggle to pay for basic needs like rent and food.
They also argued that the plan would deter students from applying to a CSU altogether and questioned how the system is spending over $8 billion it currently has in reserves.
“Why is it that the people at the top have all the money and all the power while the staff, students and faculty have to fight so hard for livable wages, for human rights issues?” said Jennifer Chavez, a CSU Long Beach student with Students for Quality Education.
The CSU’s budget gap, revealed in a May report, is a result of state funding that does not fully cover instructor pay, tutoring support and other costs tied to educating and graduating students. Roughly 40% of the operating budget for the CSU system comes from tuition and fees.
The tuition increase is part of a larger budget plan that intends to expand the system’s graduation initiative, support diverse course offerings, improve facilities on campuses, fund instructor pay and increase financial aid.
In the first year of the plan, the CSU will generate an extra $148 million and eventually $840 million by the last.
The CSU currently has more than $8.6 billion in reserves, said board member Jack McGrory at Wednesday’s meeting. Of that, only $766 million is part of a “rainy day fund”—one-time funds set aside for economic uncertainty or emergencies—while the rest is obligated to contracts and auxiliary funds, among other things, that cannot be redistributed for other uses.
Around half of the $766 million is earmarked for faculty and staff compensation that unions are currently negotiating, McGrory said.
“There’s some illusion out there that we are sitting in the Chancellor’s office sitting on a cash pot of $776 million. We’re not,” McGrory said. “I know it’s tough to do this. …It’s really difficult when we are so proud of our affordability and accessibility, but we’ve got to make these numbers work.”
The CSU has said the tuition increase will not affect a majority of students, especially those that have the most financial need. In fact, 86% of students who apply for financial aid with household incomes less than $75,000 have their tuition and fees fully covered and an additional 9% receive some assistance, according to CSU Board of Trustees member Julia I. Lopez.
At the Wednesday meeting, board member Lopez emphasized that because a majority of students do not pay for tuition out of pocket, the next issue to tackle would be reducing other costs associated with attending a CSU, such as housing, transportation and food.
“We’ve heard the stories,” she said. “Housing insecurity, food insecurity, basic needs that students have, … that’s what we are struggling with.”
However, students like Lyssa Ortega, also with Students for Quality Education, are skeptical that the promise of more financial aid will work for its intended purpose. Ortega said she is part of the group of students that does not receive financial aid despite applying and qualifying.
A student at CSU Dominguez Hills, Ortega said she is working three jobs to afford $3,000 tuition for a single class this semester. “I can’t pay for that. What am I supposed to do next semester when I’m supposed to take another four (classes)?”